Monday, 15 June 2009

Rural - Kinkizi - which comes first - the car or the road?

After a very brief respite in Kampala, I woke at 5 the next morning for an epic journey across Uganda, with my KEST contact. He had been kind enough to arrange meetings with bishops from three diocese, each of which were significantly involved in community outreach and would thus benefit from some outside investment or funding support. Each had some land, which they could use for development projects, which was the focus of my linking with the Church of Uganda.

Masaka was the first call and we were there before 8.30am and the bishop was friendly and supportive. Clearly the bishop was an expert agriculturalist and a project instigator and we agreed to cross paths on a few ideas discussed. Masaka is a large town and a significant area to house demonstration projects, close to Kampala but a better launchpoint for rural initiatives.

We travelled on to Mbarare across a wide variety of roads. Most were "under construction", as this was the main route west but was relatively free of traffic. Considering this, though, the potholes were many and some extreme and one could imagine why the roads were unpopulated. Suddenly the road turned grey and smooth and we could have been in England (even some red roadsigns), had it not been for the small children wandering the hard shoulders with large jerrycans of water half their size, or the occasional stall of local produce.

The good road did not last very long, though and we were soon on nothing more than a widish track and this turned out to be the last part of the journey, leading to Kinkizi and Kanungu. The road passed through a fertile valley, full of banana crops and where they make a potent banana spirit, which is only sold locally. At times we were driving on the edge of a ridge, with hundreds of feet to the left or right and occasionally we passed a truck, bringing goods to where we were going too. The road was also subsiding, and in the rainy times, there are often mudslides or boulders falling down onto the road. It was now dark, but in around two hours we made it through to Kinkizi.

Suddenly we were in a small town, with all sorts of ramshackle shops, but selling all types of goods. The forest was still all around us and the place had an ambience all of its own. Next day we heard, however, that the bishop had cancelled our appointment, as he had an "important" service to hold in the community, to which we were instructed we had to attend. It wasn't scheduled to finish until around 1 and it was only a little over time, but I decided to go walkabout during the service, which was in a language I did not understand (and 3-4 hours long). Around the church were hundreds of local kids all apparently waiting to sing (though they were never invited) and so I took the opportunity to see what they were about.

English was very poor so I didn't get very far, but one little girl of about 8 chatted to me about her father "beating her for no reason" and a few others showed interest in my laptop, although I didn't switch it on, and my camera, which always seems to create huge excitement.

After the service the bishop seemed irritated - apparently he had been heckled, when he had called upon the congregation to fight against the recent appointment of Catholics in local civil service posts. I think people felt they had other priorities - water, transport, educational facilities, to name a few. I was introduced to him and he was somewhat hostile. I retorted that I only worked with organisations keen to elicit change, which I don't think went down very well...

I stopped over at the Savannah Hotel, which was very nice and I heard lions grabbing antelopes in the Queen Elizabeth Park during the night! But next morning, we had to head back. Stopping off at the North Kigezi diocese, we met up with a wonderful couple of pastors, who were working in Rukungiri and the surrounds. We talked about Butterfly and some of their other projects and I'm hopeful there will be some opportunity to liaise again with them. Water was much less of an issue there, because they had worked up a strategy with WaterAid...

So, back home and on the dusty, fume-filled roads again. Another 14 hours and we were in the traffic of Kampala again. My host was driving and I can't thank him enough for some wonderful and informative discussions mid-transport but also for having the tenacity to drive safely through such tricky surroundings.

Clearly roads make trade and here in many places roads have become neglected, probably because so few vehicles use them. A short 40km journey in Kinkizi and Kanungu can take 2 hours, though and is this conducive to trade on a large scale? The government thinks not and has apparently put a proper road into the budget for 2010. Let's hope it comes and can help transform this disadvantaged place.


  1. For us geographically challenged, I would love to see some maps of where you have been. I am trying to place where in Africa you are at and how far you are traveling.

    I am also curious how stable the government and society are in general? Do you ever see armed men? Do you feel unsafe at times? Is it lawless or do you feel safe as your travel?

  2. I'll see if I can dig out a map or two, so people can see the locations.

    I think it would be fair to say that the government in Uganda is relatively stable, although there is some chance that it will topple in the next elections, which might cause some friction.

    I am currently in the North, in Kitgum, where much of the rebel fighting was a few years back, but it is now a safe area.

    Travelling is very safe, possibly because there are so many armed men around. Almost every bank has an armed guard outside and the army frequent many areas, including Kitgum.

    Travelling in distance terms is not vast, as Uganda is not a large country, but it can be difficult. For instance, today, the main road to Kitgum was blocked by a number of huge mounds of earth, which meant we had to take an even bumpier side route. Travel times are reasonably fast - Kitgum to Kampala (tomorrow) should be about 6 hours, but the buses go at breakneck pace over the potholes - not pleasant! The journey will probably cost no more than about £8, though.

    I will be writing a Gulu/Kitgum blog shortly.